The Truth About Allergy Season

Here are some of the most com­mon myths about sea­son­al aller­gies — debunked.

It’s that time of year you always dread: You’ve wok­en up with a scratchy throat, a stub­born cough, and a whole lot of congestion.

If you have sea­son­al aller­gies — also called aller­gic rhini­tis or hay fever — you’re not alone. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans have aller­gies that come and go with the seasons.

Despite how com­mon aller­gies are, there are many mis­con­cep­tions about them. Here’s the truth behind some of the most com­mon aller­gy myths:

Myth: Peo­ple with sea­son­al aller­gies should be most­ly con­cerned about flowers.

The most com­mon trig­ger of sea­son­al aller­gies is a yel­low­ish pow­dery sub­stance called pollen. Pollen par­ti­cles can make their way into your lungs, nose, or eyes, where they can cause symp­toms if you are aller­gic to pollen.

Flow­ers are well-known pro­duc­ers of pollen, but pollen can be cre­at­ed by many types of plants. Sea­son­al aller­gies tend to be caused by the pollen made from trees, grass, or weeds.

Myth: Spring is the worst sea­son for allergies.

There isn’t one worst” sea­son. It’s true that many peo­ple expe­ri­ence their worst aller­gies dur­ing the spring, but oth­ers find that sum­mer or fall are the most uncom­fort­able. This is because dif­fer­ent pol­lens are cre­at­ed in each season:

There also isn’t one worst” month with­in each sea­son, since the exact tim­ing of an aller­gy sea­son varies across the country.

Myth: If you have sea­son­al aller­gies, you’re basi­cal­ly stuck inside until the sea­son is over.

There are cer­tain times when it might be best to stay inside, but that doesn’t mean you can nev­er enjoy the outdoors.

Some peo­ple find it help­ful to check the day’s pollen count before decid­ing whether or not to go out­doors for a long peri­od of time. This is a mea­sure­ment of how much pollen is in the air. You can find the dai­ly pollen counts on The South Bend Clin­ic home­page. Addi­tion­al­ly, there are sev­er­al web­sites where you can find both cur­rent and fore­cast­ed pollen counts, such as the Nation­al Aller­gy Bureau and Pollen​.com. Some smart­phone weath­er apps also include infor­ma­tion about pollen counts. 

If you do need to spend time out­side on a high-pollen day, there are sev­er­al pre­cau­tions you can take to min­i­mize your symptoms:

  • Wear a face mask
  • Keep your grass short — but try to leave the actu­al gar­den­ing to some­one who doesn’t have allergies
  • Rinse off when you come inside
  • Brush your pets after they’ve gone outdoors

It’s also a good idea to keep short-term symp­tom relief med­ica­tions like decon­ges­tants on hand.

Myth: You don’t need to start aller­gy med­ica­tions until you start hav­ing symptoms.

Aller­gy med­ica­tions don’t just treat symp­toms — they can pre­vent them, too. 

The key is to start tak­ing them ear­ly on. If you already know you have aller­gies, start them two weeks before you expect your symp­toms to begin. This allows your body to get used to the med­ica­tion so you can get the most ben­e­fits out of it. 

To learn more about reliev­ing aller­gy symp­toms, make an appoint­ment with a South Bend Clin­ic aller­gy spe­cial­ist.

Myth: Aller­gy med­ica­tions always make you tired

Anti­his­t­a­mines — med­ica­tions that block a symp­tom-caus­ing chem­i­cal called his­t­a­mine that your body releas­es when hav­ing an aller­gic reac­tion — are among the most effec­tive aller­gy med­ica­tions. They have a rep­u­ta­tion for mak­ing you sleepy, but that’s not always the case. There are non-drowsy anti­his­t­a­mines, like fex­ofe­na­dine (Alle­gra®), lorata­dine (Clar­itin®), and cet­i­rizine (Zyrtec®), that are less like­ly to tire you out.

Also, not all aller­gy med­ica­tions are anti­his­t­a­mines. Many oth­er types aren’t known for caus­ing drowsi­ness, such as cor­ti­cos­teroids that block inflam­ma­tion relat­ed to aller­gies, immunother­a­py shots that train your immune sys­tem not to respond to aller­gens, and decon­ges­tants that pro­vide fast, tem­po­rary relief for sinus congestion. 

Myth: Since decon­ges­tants (like Afrin® and Sudafed®) are avail­able over the counter, they are always safe to use.

Decon­ges­tants pro­vide relief for a stuffy nose or clogged sinus­es. Many are avail­able over the counter as pills, liq­uids, or nasal sprays. While decon­ges­tants can be great for quick symp­tom relief, they should not be used on a long-term basis — and some peo­ple should avoid cer­tain decon­ges­tants altogether.

There are a few types of decon­ges­tants, and each comes with their share of poten­tial risks:

  • Oxymeta­zo­line (Afrin® Nasal Spray or Zicam® Nasal Spray) can cause rebound con­ges­tion — when con­ges­tion returns and is worse than before — if used for more than 3 days in a row.
  • Oral decon­ges­tants like pseu­doephedrine (Sudafed®) or phenyle­phrine (Sudafed PE®) shouldn’t be tak­en for more than 7 days in a row. Over time, oral decon­ges­tants can raise your heart rate and blood pres­sure, which can increase your risk for seri­ous com­pli­ca­tions like heart attacks.
  • Don’t take oral decon­ges­tants if you have uncon­trolled or severe high blood pres­sure. Check with your provider before tak­ing decon­ges­tants if you have heart or thy­roid prob­lems, dia­betes, glau­co­ma, dif­fi­cul­ty uri­nat­ing because of an enlarged prostate, or are pregnant.

Myth: You can’t devel­op aller­gies lat­er in life.

Aller­gies tend to devel­op ear­li­er in life. How­ev­er, aller­gies can ebb and flow, or not even show up until adulthood.

There are sev­er­al rea­sons why this can occur, such as:

  • Weak­en­ing immune sys­tem: As you age, your immune sys­tem gets weak­er and can increase your like­li­hood of devel­op­ing dis­eases, includ­ing aller­gic reactions.
  • Med­ica­tion changes: Some med­ica­tions for con­di­tions like anx­i­ety or insom­nia con­tain anti­his­t­a­mines. If you stop tak­ing them, you might notice symp­toms that were once masked by the medication.
  • Stress: Aging or lifestyle changes can cause or wors­en stress, and that can trig­ger aller­gy flare-ups.
  • Mov­ing to a New Envi­ron­ment: You may move to a new place where you’re exposed to a dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ment and new allergens.

No mat­ter when you devel­op them, sea­son­al aller­gies can make you feel any­where from slight­ly uncom­fort­able to down­right lousy. But you don’t have to be mis­er­able. There are ways to ease or pre­vent symptoms.

An aller­gist or pri­ma­ry care provider can help you find the most effec­tive way to man­age your aller­gies. Until then … grab a box of tissues. 

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